Erik Scott ignored several police commands to "get on the ground" before pulling a gun out of his waistband and aiming it "straight at the officer,” Costco worker Colleen Kullberg testified during the first day of a Clark County coroner’s inquest into Scott’s July 10 death at the hands of three Las Vegas police officers at the Summerlin store.
Earlier testimony by doctors who treated Scott painted the 38-year-old medical device salesman as a likely prescription drug addict who battled long-term depression, high stress and chronic pain. When he died, Scott had potentially fatal levels of the painkiller morphine and the anti-anxiety drug Xanax in his system, according to a toxicology report.
A Costco employee had called police because Scott, who had a concealed-weapons permit, was carrying a gun and acting erratically, police said. The store was evacuated as officers responded, sending hundreds of shoppers and employees spilling into the parking lot as the fatal confrontation unfolded.
Kullberg said she was one of the last to leave the store, and emerged in time to hear the officer’s commands and to see Scott staring at the officer.
"He wasn’t getting on the ground," Kullberg testified before the jury and an audience that included Scott friends and relatives wearing buttons bearing a smiling photo of the West Point graduate.
Kullberg said she watched as Scott pulled a gun from his waistband and "aimed it straight at the officer," who shot him.
Her version of events matches that of the Las Vegas police, but Scott family attorney Ross Goodman gathered with his clients outside the Regional Justice Center after the day’s session to express doubt about Kullberg’s testimony.
"It’s funny, because she looked nervous to me," he said. "The Costco lawyer was sitting in the courtroom."
He stopped short of calling her a liar.
"It’s difficult to explain why she testified this way," said Goodman, who twice objected during the proceedings and was twice warned to remain seated and quiet. The inquest, which resumes at 9 a.m. today, is not an adversarial hearing, and the family attorney has no official role. The seven-member jury will decide whether the officer’s actions were justified, excusable or criminal, but their ruling has no force of law.
The lawyer said Kullberg missed much of the incident, including the commands of the two other officers and the screams of Scott’s girlfriend.
"Her testimony at this point is questionable until we get all the evidence," Goodman said.
As many as 50 witnesses are expected to testify, most of them shoppers or store employees. The three officers — William Mosher, Joshua Stark and Thomas Mendiola — also will testify. Jurors will also hear the 911 call and view some store surveillance video, Assistant District Attorney Chris Owens said as the inquest began. But there is no video of the actual shooting, he said, and witnesses will testify about failed attempts to recover images from a hard drive that failed well before the shooting.
Wednesday’s testimony was dominated by medical issues and a depiction of Scott that ran counter to his persona as a happy, successful high achiever.
Scott was shot seven times — once in the chest, three times in the back, once in the back of his left arm, once in his left buttock and once near the front of his right thigh, according to Dr. Alane Olson, a medical examiner with the Clark County coroner’s office who performed his autopsy.
Olson testified that Scott had potentially lethal levels of prescription drugs in his system at the time of his death. The morphine in his system, 1,800 nanograms per milliliter, was more than four times enough to kill most people, and the level of Xanax, 390 nanograms per milliliter, was at the top of the lethal range. Because Scott was walking around partaking in daily activities, he probably had developed a tolerance to the drugs, though they could have made him drowsy, lethargic and clumsy, she said.
Dr. Shari Klein said she started treating Scott in 2008, but as the months passed she saw less and less of him because he couldn’t afford her services. She said Scott told her he had used a variety of street drugs, including cocaine, ecstasy and anabolic steroids in the past. He also battled depression and told her that depression, along with substance abuse, were part of his family history.
In the summer of 2009, Scott e-mailed Klein a request for the prescription hydrocodone, a powerful narcotic painkiller that he thought would help his depression.
"I really don’t want to deal with one of those scumbag drug-pushing pain doctors," he wrote, and suggested she use his chronic elbow and knee pain to justify the prescription.
"I just wanted to get him help," she said.
She said she referred him for a psychological evaluation, but he couldn’t afford it.
His depression weighed on him. In the e-mail, he wrote, "The thought of going to two straight weeks of intense work training right now, and having to talk, smile and be nice to people makes me want to vomit. It’s literally a matter of time before my ‘faking it’ at work is going to show."
His e-mails revealed that he even considered suicide.
"I can’t live like this," he wrote.
He said he wouldn’t kill himself because it would hurt his family, "but like we talked about, sometimes it seems like the only solution," he wrote.
Klein said Scott resisted her efforts to get him in for an office visit, and she stopped being his doctor in August 2009.
Five months later, Scott saw pain management specialist Dr. Daniel Kim for chronic abdominal pain. Scott told Kim he suffered from lower back pain for years but had it under control.
Kim said he terminated his relationship with Scott after seeing him again on Feb. 16. Scott had run out of three kinds of prescription painkillers in two weeks when they should have lasted four, he said.
"He doubled up everything that I gave him," Kim said.
The physician said he sent Scott away with a list of detoxification centers.
"He suffered from addiction," Kim said. "He had a significant psychological dependency, and he lost total control of how he was taking the medication."
A written question submitted by an interested party asked whether Kim felt his interactions with Scott directly led to the fatal encounter with police.
"That is a very philosophical question," Kim responded, wondering aloud whether he could have been more forceful in directing Scott to go to a detoxification center.
"I don’t know," he replied.
Ten days after his last visit with Kim, Scott saw Dr. Joseph Gnoyski, who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation.
Scott told Gnoyski he was experiencing severe pain from a broken back and disc problem suffered in paratrooper training during his time at the U.S. Military Academy, 17 years earlier.
Scott had managed the pain through the years, but a February traffic accident had so intensified the pain that Scott spent days in agony on his couch or bed, Gnoyski said.
Gnoyski gave Scott a prescription for hydrocodone. Before long Scott went to another doctor for three more prescriptions for the narcotic, even though Gnoyski had warned him that was illegal, he said.
Scott explained that the prescriptions were refills, the doctor testified.
Gnoyski said he saw Scott seven times over several months. Initially, Scott was escalating the doses of his pain medication, but after several visits he was complying with the prescribed treatment.
Gnoyski called Scott a "pseudo-addict," someone who appears to be an addict but is just trying to find relief for their intense pain. Once the pain was under control, Scott took less medication and did not go to other doctors, he said.
"I don’t believe he was seeking drugs," he testified. "It just doesn’t mesh with his character."
Gnoyski pointed to Scott’s dedication to daily exercise, healthy eating and 60-hour work weeks.
Yet Gnoyski was prepared to drop Scott as a patient after a July 1 encounter in the hall of his office building. Gnoyski said Scott was groggy and lethargic, and stumbled as they walked down the corridor.
Gnoyski wrote and signed a letter dismissing Scott as a patient but he wanted to see Scott again to get an explanation for the odd behavior. Their appointment was for July 12, two days after he died.
After Wednesday’s testimony, Goodman accused lawyers from the Clark County district attorney’s office, who questioned the witnesses, of trying to assassinate Scott’s character during a "one-sided process."
"They’re presenting what they want to present and what they want you to hear," he said.
Goodman, who described Scott as an "upstanding guy," also said evidence showed that whatever medications he was taking "had no effect on him whatsoever."
Review-Journal reporter Henry Brean contributed to this report. Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at firstname.lastname@example.org or 384-8710. Contact reporter Brian Haynes at email@example.com or 383-0281.Clark County coroner’s inquest into Erik Scott shooting
Friends of ‘unbelievable man’ protest at inquest
WATCH ONLINE AND ON TV
Inquest begins at 10 a.m.
Live coverage of coroner’s inquest – Channel 4
The inquest will be broadcast live by Clark County’s cable channel 4. KSNV-TV and KLAS-TV will show the inquest on Cox Communications digital channels 123 and 128, and on their websites, KSNV-TV and KLAS-TV